I do not seek a kingdom,
Nor do I want heaven
I can do without rebirth
Just let me work with
the poor and the downtrodden in this lifetime.
The Jai Jagat 2020 Indian representatives (formerly part of International Initiatives) made a trip to Colombia that extended over two interesting weeks in June 2013. Three of us from India, Jill, Rajagopal, and Nathalia were in Bogota in the second week of the month, where we met many social organisations from different parts of the country that work with rural communities –all of these communities that are struggling to stay on the land. Many of the civil society organisations are involved in “accompaniment” which includes advocacy for the peasants and small landholders, providing them legal and psychological supports, and interfacing between the rural communities and international organisations to ensure people’s safety and security. What was striking for us from India was how much people had imbibed the notion of nonviolence as a way of life and as a survival mechanism.
In this article then, the authors –who have been involved in changing land reform policies in India —looked at the land context in Colombia and then explored the extent to which local people are using nonviolence in their struggles. The authors, in their brief 7-day tour in north western Colombia, witnessed how small landholders in spite of many death threats, disappearances along with ongoing displacement and weak governance, are soldiering on with their lives having developed unique strategies of community organising.
Land Issues in Colombia
Land conflicts in countries like India exist because of the competition for scarce natural resources. In Colombia there was no scarcity. And moreover, it is one of the richest bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. Yet there is conflict. Why is there conflict? Colombia suffers from massive inequity where less than half a percent of the population (about 14,000 families) own or control more than 62% of the land resources. To add insult to injury, only about 30% of the productive land is cultivated and yet in spite of there being an excess of productive land, there is a high degree of landlessness, as we discovered through visits to the barrios (slums) of Bogota and Medellin.
The current period of internal displacement in Colombia has been happening since1960’s, yet between 1996-2004, there was one of the largest land grabs recorded in human history. In total five-and-a-half million people have been displaced and at the same time large plantations of palm oil and other crops along with cattle ranches were built up from the once small farmer holdings in the rich tropical jungle. It was not surprising therefore that guerilla groups emerged in the 1960s as a consequence of land concentration. FARC-EP, ELN and a host of other insurgency groups began to work from the jungles in destabilising the government and the national and foreign agri-businesses. The illegal paramilitary groups then evolved as a counter insurgency strategy created in 1961 by the Colombian government to stop the emergence of left-wing groups in Colombia who were encouraged by the success of the socialist revolution in Cuba. They soon became a force of violence for their own ends of profits and control over the territory with the complicity of the government and the armed forces. This was exemplified by the clearing of the forestland to make way for cattle and bio-fuel companies, which was carried out primarily under the leadership of the AUC (the biggest association of paramilitaries) and the Colombian armed forces. They displaced, murdered and disappeared the rightful landowners, and wide expanses of lands were handed over to companies with tacit support from the Government, for which they were paid well.
Government under the then President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), passed a Law of Justice and Peace in 2005, which was created for the demobilisation of paramilitary groups but in the process they became legitimised. On record over 32,000 members gave up their arms between 2005-2010 (numbers contested by human rights organisations) and they were given very light punishment for their heinous crimes –a perceived weakness in the law. Besides, several top paramilitary leaders involved in crimes and linked to politicians and businessmen where extradited to the USA (for drug trafficking charges), without being accountable for their crimes against humanity. In addition many of the de- mobilised soon re-mobilised. An example is that in Curbarado, where the “Urabeños” and the “Gaitanistas” became the newly formed paramilitary groups after the introduction of the Justice and Peace Law. This new phenomenon, known as “Bacrim” (criminal bands), became prevalent, working in complicity with the police and army. This showed how ineffective the government had been in reigning in violence. Thus the demobilisation failed to rid the country of paramilitary; it rather built up a more virulent violence. Without dealing with the causes of inequality, social conflict continued to rise.
The Victims and Land Restitution Act in 2011 and Negotiation in 2012 & 2013.
As a result, President Juan Manuel Santos, who was elected in 2010, made another attempt at responding to small landholders by passing the Victims and Land Restitution Act in 2011 and setting up the institutional machinery that was to assist with the adjudication of this law. This has been very lax in getting land back to the people because of the strength of the opposition forces. Besides, the Government did not involve the rural communities affected in the development and implementation of this Law. The
Government’s goal of giving back 2 millions hectares of land is a good start but it does not recognise the 6.6 million hectares that have been grabbed in the last twenty years.
So The Victims and Land Restitution Law (1448) was passed in June 2011 in the Congress. The law acknowledges that there are people that have been victims of the Colombian armed conflict, and it recognises the full exercise of their rights to truth, justice and reparation. It establishes different forms of reparation not only land restitution, but also, compensation, rehabilitation, and guarantee of non-repetition of violence. It has four important clauses for victims. They are:
1. Access and use of land (land bank for distribution), which is about 6 million hectares. This would need to go side by side with reducing land inequity.
2. Regulation of properties to ensure that Afro-descendants and Indigenous people and small farmers are settled on the property.
3. To consider the use of the land development from the point of view of the small holders.
4. To ensure foreigners cannot buy land.
However, Law 1448 gives priority to the agri-business developed in grabbed land when this has to be handed over to its legitimate landowners. So the Law denies the right to enjoy the free use of land. For that reason, land claimants have commenced proceedings against the paragraph of the Law related to the settlement agreements, because this does not compel the companies and entrepreneurs to leave the land and forces the farmers to accept different agreements (to become a shareholder in the agri-business, to receive a scant rent, etc). Moreover, people are also demanding to mend the paragraph that ignores the victims of dispossessions before 1991.
The Land Restitution Act is being enacted by the Constitutional Courts; so by February 2013 the Land Restitution Unit had received over 30,000 applications and worked on about 5,393 cases, corresponding to a land area of 250,000 hectares. There had been 32 court rulings ordering the restitution of only 135 claimants to over 115 properties. But in reality, in the frame of this Law, only one family has managed to go back to their land.
Land restitution is perceived by many, as improving the investment of outside companies and to show that the Government is serious about minimising human rights violations. It was well received because a large number of parliamentarians supported this law reflecting the softening of the Santos government to the minorities and small landholders. But the social organisations and many in the opposition are still concerned that this Law is another instrument for legalising dispossession. This has not had any effect on the main institutions in the country such as the Colombian Army, the Ministry of Agriculture and its institutions, the Land Registration Office, and the Supervisor Registries and Notaries. These government agencies are still influenced by the political and economic interests of the former elites and therefore it has been difficult to see the implementation of land restitution. However there are many companies that have lost their lands. With respect to palm plantations, 16 business leaders are in prison, 11 are fugitives, and 22 are on trial.
At the time of our trip to Colombia, there were ongoing negotiations between the Government of Colombia and the largest Guerilla Group, FARC in June 2013; the media is even talking about possible negotiations between the government and the ELN, the second largest guerrilla group. President Santos had opened up peace negotiations in August 2011 to respond to the violence. The five point agenda focuses on: 1. Establishing agrarian reform within rural development, 2. Political participation, 3. Ending of the armed conflict, 4. Eliminating drug trafficking, and 5. Setting up a truth commission (reparation to victims).
On the first point of agrarian reform within rural development they have agreed to a five points. These are:
1. Creation of a land bank with about 7 million hectares to be redistributed. (However in Colombia around 6 million hectares have been grabbed by paramilitary groups to date.)
2. Land titling: Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities will have collective titles while peasant groups will have their individual titles.
3. Protection of the Peasant Farmer Reserve Zones and Forest Reserve Zones.
4. Providing basic services: to guarantee housing, health care, education and job opportunities to peasants.
5. Updating the rural census because the Government does not know how many farmers there are in the rural areas and how much land is available.
With regard to No. 3, FARC has proposed in the Peace Negotiations to create 59 peasant reserves all over the country, which would encompass about 9 million hectares of land. This extent of land is equivalent to twice the current land cultivated with sugar cane, coffee, cotton and tobacco in the country. The recommendation is to have the peasant reserve hold the same political, economic and cultural autonomy as the indigenous people’s reserves or the Afro-descendent territories that already have guarantees in the Colombian Constitution. Another recommendation on Peasant Farmer reserves proposed by FARC is to have them be governed by their own communities and organisation, which will have the same institutional mechanisms as other territorial organisations. It is not clear what the consensus is and until the five other items of the agenda are negotiated, there is no final agreement.
As we were representing a group in India that had achieved some success on land reform with the Government, it was interesting to compare India’s experience with the progress going on in Colombia. On the face of it, the negotiations seemed like a significant step forward in the fifty-yearlong civil war. Ironically, the civil society organisations, whose activities are very prominent at the grassroots level, had been left out of the negotiations. As a result, they had submitted more than 400 recommendations to the Government for review but there was no information whether any of these were being, or would be considered.
Three common concerns of the civil society organisations of what was not being discussed at the peace negotiations were:
1. Regulating land concentration with a land ceiling for large estates.
2. Halting of transference of land to foreign hands. The Congress is looking at regulating foreign ownership by passing a law that allows outsiders to buy land when they are shareholders in a company owning less than 51% of the company.
3. Mining policy: This pertains to Indigenous communities whose consent for mining is required and then it relates to rights of mining companies to sub-stratum land which conflicts with surface ownership.
Land Issues in Curvaradó and Juguamiando Region
Curvaradó and Juguimiendo seemed to have a confluence of factors that has made for “a perfect storm”. There was drug running, arms merchants and large flows of capital, with a weak governance structure. The anarchy that was/is perpetuated allowed for state violence to take place and this benefited national/international agri-business companies particularly, cattle-ranchers and African palm plantation owners. The paramilitaries (or private armies of companies), are often working in collusion with the armed forces, making the face of government lack legitimacy and credibility. This goes unnoticed by the mainstream media and the general public in and outside the country.
Curvaradó and Juguamiando had a high proportion of Afro-descendent populations (formerly slaves) and they gained recognition under the 1991 Colombian Constitution and in 1993 they got their territorial land rights. Thirty-five percent of the land in Colombia is under the minorities of Afro-descendents and Indigenous people even though their combined populations in the census are about 24%, yet this is much higher if one adds in the Mestizo or mixed populations (those who are self-identified) –which by some estimates is almost 85% of the population.
Soon after, the situation changed completely. From 1996 people began to lose their lands. There was a massive land grabbing program. People were displaced, murdered and disappeared, the survivors left their farms. In the meantime, their lands were captured by large plantation companies and held by force so they were not able to move back. So far only 1000 legal landowners have managed to go back. In an effort to combat this injustice, the original inhabitants used the courts and pressured the government. They had little success. Then many people decided to move back to their territories in groups with the help of national and international accompaniment and set up different communities as mentioned above. This they did at great peril. Many of the community leaders from 2005 until today, have continued to live with death threats, and there have been over 30 assassinations in this region and more that 50 leaders are still threatened. In the country there has been as many as 75,000 disappearances and in this area 7000 people were displaced. Indeed hearing the voices of these people is a rare display of human strength to withstand violence of such a high proportion.
Community-based Non-Violent Strategies
The community-based organising strategies that have been adopted are: Humanitarian Zones and Biodiversity Zones, Indigenous and Peasant Farmer (Campesino) reserves. I will provide a brief description of each.
The Humanitarian Zones are a collective land area about 2-3 hectares enclosure with barbed wire and at every entrance there are the words: “ This place is exclusively for civilians not involved in the armed conflict. No entry to armed actors” then the name of particular community is given. (See photo.) In the Biodiversity Zones are the extension of the Humanitarian Zones, and are places where people grow their own food, while at the same time restoring the natural ecosystems usually recovering vegetation and soil fertility that was lost by cutting down the tropical rainforest. Although the Indigenous reserves are recognised by the Colombian constitution, these territories are coveted by the national and foreign companies; the indigenous communities in the country have developed different non-violent actions to protect their territories such us the Humanitarian Reservations. The Peasant Farmer reserves were set up after the passing of the 1994 Agricultural Reform Law. Victims of the armed conflict migrated looking for new land and livelihood opportunities, and these reserves help to strength the local economy while at the same time protecting natural resources. In the section below, we portray some of the voices of dissent from people living in these various kinds of communities.
The Humanitarian Zones as well as the other demilitarised areas are small islands in an otherwise area with practically no rule of law and few government institutions. Where there was government, it was mostly in the control of the large army presence, and the armed forces were more often than not trying to assist the companies with wresting the land away from local people rather than helping people to keep their land.
Voices of Dissent: Re-organising Afro-Descendent and Mestisto (Mixed) communities
1/ Maria Ligia Chaverra from the Camelias Humanitarian Zone
Maria Ligia is Afro-descendent and about 75 years old with 14 children and over 40 grandchildren. She has lived in the same area of Camelias for the past 55 years and although there have been efforts to dislodge her and her family on numerous occasions, yet she has persisted and has kept coming back to her homeland numerous times –even against all odds. As an elder and a leader of the Humanitarian Zone of Camelias, she is also the President of the local woman’s organisation. She commands great respect. Even though she stands about 5’1’’ with a lightweight frame, when she talks, one understands that she has a commitment of steel. Maria Ligia is a woman fighting for her people and all other displaced people whether Afro-descendent, Indigenous or mixed raced.
She spoke to us in Bogota about her experiences, which I have taken the liberty to put into story form. After meeting her a second time in Camelias, Rajaji and I offered her as President of the Camelias Women’s Association, the Maja Koene Award for 2013. She thanked us for the offer with gratitude on behalf of the women in the association.
In 1996 when paramilitary came to the region, they attacked us and a year later, that is, in 1997 we were evicted from our farm. The army evicted us and maintained that we had to go so that they could fight the guerillas. We did not want to go but at the time we did not realise that this was a ruse and not true. We left the farm but we did not leave the area however. As there were no refugee camps we had to stay in 13 different places in the area. During the beginning of this period we had to stay two years in the local forests hiding out in the mountain regions without protection or shelter. Being in the forest was difficult, we had to kill the dogs and the children had to learn not to cry otherwise the paramilitaries could track us down.
After that we stayed with different friends and family members. It then began to be clear that in our immediate area about 130 people had been displaced, and this was happening to a large number of people in Curvarado and Jiguamiando numbering about 7000 persons. All of these people were not able to move back to their homes, because business managers had taken over our farms to plant African palm oil plants and take up cattle ranching.
We thought that our family and some friends should also set up a Humanitarian Zone, as was being done in Cacarica and other areas. It was necessary for us to take back some of the land from the plantation companies. Since I had already lived in this area for 55 years and I had been brought up on a 40-hectare farm with a second farm of 150 hectares before the displacement, I knew which area we should occupy. We demarcated a Humanitarian Zone of Camelias in 2008, which consists of 2 hectares for 35 families’ settlement plus another 12 hectares of agricultural land for our food security. We continue to be harassed as “guerillas” by the army, but she is using the Constitutional Courts to make her claims to the land.
2/ Marcos Velazquez from New Hole CAVIDA Humanitarian Zone, Cacarica
Marcos from Cacarica was an unforgettable man. We met him in Bogota, as he unfortunately was not able to reside at home because of ongoing death threats. He tells the story of how he and his family were displaced. In February 1997 on the pretext that there were guerillas in his area the infamous 17th Brigade launched a three-day combing operation called “Genesis”, with combined aerial and aquatic military action in which they displaced more that 4000 Afro-Colombians from the river basis of Cacarica, Truando and Salaqui. Additionally the soldiers, there were hundreds of civilian armed groups (the paramilitaries of AUC of Cordoba and Uraba) that opened fire against the people. With the absence of local people, timber merchants devastated the primary forest and exported this high quality wood products abroad.
At the end of 2001 they set up the first Humanitarian Zone that protected 52 families on 12 hectares of land. He had got that idea from trips to the capital where he saw rich people living in gated communities. If rich people are living inside their communities then why cannot poor people do the same..? In Cacarica, they eventually set up two Humanitarian Zones and to legitimise their possession, they argued that it was collective land and as Afro-descendent Territory under Law 70 of 1993. Later, in 2005 the Humanitarian Zones were recognised by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. Thereafter many more sprung up.
When we went back to the land in 2000 we created a shelter with the help of national and international organisations. We elicited an agreement with the government for “comprehensive restoration” of our land, which meant that besides getting title and settling into a demilitarised zone, we would get community development inputs and help with psychosocial counselling for our family members. In 2001, the paramilitary groups enter the Humanitarian Zones, we faced another round of kidnapping of 25 members of our community the community authorities demand them to withdraw from the HZ and the paramilitary operation failed thanks to the international pressure. Later, the army then came and set up a base near our shelter on our land, justifying their actions by saying that “they were there to protect the local communities”. In point of fact we were being threatened regularly. This was the time we came up with the idea of a Humanitarian Zone. We wanted to stake a claim on our land and show our own power through non- violence.
Now we have two Humanitarian Zones and 52 families and a Biodiversity Zone of 12 hectares with crops inside the area. The situation over the last ten years has not improved greatly. One of the tactics that the paramilitary and military continues to use against us, is imposing economic blockades. This controls the amount of food that people can buy in the local towns and bring to the Humanitarian zones, and the few items that we are able to purchase, means that our families potentially could suffer from malnutrition.
3/ Enrique Petro in Andalucía, Humanitarian Zone: Problems of Mixed Communities
Mr. Petro from the Humanitarian Zone of Andalucia has a diminutive stature but a warm rugged face. He was displaced in 1997 and in 2002 when he then returned to the farm and found it under oil palm plantations. He got the Commission of Justice and Peace and international accompaniers to assist with the resettlement of 30-odd families in his own land. They cut down palm trees and to set up a 3-hectare Humanitarian Zone. There were many threats and people tried to kill Mr. Petro and even though there was no protection from the army, he managed to survive. His story was recorded in his two talks to us both in Bogota and Camelias and tells us how the government is pitting mixed race groups – Mestizos against the Afro-descendent communities that used to live in harmony.
In the Curvarado basin, there are 23 communities and they are both Afro- descendent and Mestizo. Law 70 of 1993 recognizes the collective titles of the Afro- descendant communities, and it also protects land rights of non- Afro-descendant people who have been living in the collective territories for at least 10 years.
In their battle to get back their land, they went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Colombian Constitutional Court, this latter ruled in their favour. How ever, the Ministry of Home Affaires deliberately gave a different interpretation to the ruling saying that “only” the Afro-descendant communities are the legal owner of the land usurped. So the government is not supporting the mixed –raced displaced communities to get their land back. In other words, there are 19 Mestizo communities and 4 Afro-descendent one and people are being divided based on their skin colour. Those who are visibly black are placed in a group saying that they are Afro-descendants and they can be given land back. This was in fact an underhanded method of removing the “less black” so-called Mestisos from having any land rights. This resulted in there having tensions between the two communities.
This situation was exacerbated when the companies settled in the community land have brought Afro-descendant people from other parts of the country to live and work in the plantations to repopulate the region. The Afro-descendent / mixed raced community of Camelia-Andalucia used to live in harmony before they were displaced in 1997.
Some of the community members built Camelia-Andalucia HZ in 2008. Recently the constitutional Court (based on Law 70 of 1993 and the cases failed against the companies and the Government) ruled that the legitimate owners of the territory is the community and not the companies and order the Ministry of Home Affaires to deliver justice and implement de CC ruling. But this Ministry deliberately misinterpreted the Law and this has led to the benefits going only to black people on the basis that they are afro- descendants.
The number of people that have been displaced is around 7000 but only 1300 (so- called Afro-descendants) have been provided land rights (not the mixed races). Meanwhile the Ministry of Home Affaires has given a different interpretation of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, by saying that “only” Afro descendants can have land. This is compounded by the fact that there are group of Afro-Descendants being brought in from the outside as workers on companies’ lands, which is affecting the sentiments of the local mixed communities.
Enrique Petro tells of another part of Act 70 that says that those people living in these areas before the Act have the same rights and those “living in black communities for ten years or more have the same rights”. With the help of the Commission for Justice and Peace, people are challenging this criteria adopted by the Ministry of Home Affairs with seemingly little legal basis. They are also helping to create the awareness that the Afro-descendants and Mestiso are stronger by coming together –especially in facing the opposing forces.
Enrique Pertro also mentioned the fungal plague that affected African palm in 2006. This decimated the palm trees and people lost many agribusinesses. Subsequently the African palm plantations have been replaced by a hybrid palm tree, and business continues.
4/ Trinidad Gallo, wife of Manuel Ruiz in Costa Azul Humanitarian Zone
Manuel Ruiz (58 years) and his son Samuel Ruiz (15 years) were murdered on the 23th of March 2012, by paramilitary groups that operate in the region with the complicity of some members of the army 17th Brigade. Manuel was one of the first inhabitants in the region and was leading the land restitution process in his community with the help of INCODER (National Institute of Land Reform). His task was to lead the census in the region by reporting the number of farms, their land size and the names of the original legal owners. Obviously there are many interests and the landlords and businessmen did not want these proceedings to be completed; rather they wanted to prevent the demarcated to land to be part of the collective title. So Manuel Ruiz and other land claimants received many threats from the brother Rios (who develop agri-business in the land) and their labourers (who are new settlers).
Costa Azul Humanitarian Zone had 17 members of family Ruiz. They had returned to their land 15 days before, with the help of the Commission, and Peace Brigades International. The Victims Unit (the government agency that provides logistics, protective and financial help to the victims of violence) did not help. We met Ms. Trinidad Gallo, Manuel Ruiz’s wife, and three sons at Costa Azul and she described how they re-settled on the land.
Landlords took over our land in 1997 with the help of paramilitary forces to set up cattle ranching and agro-fuel projects. Though the threats continued, we decided to return in 2004 to recover their land and declare our land as collective. After the assassination of Manuel the threats continued over the rest of the family Ruiz members, again we left our land and took shelter in a Humanitarian Zone in the department of Meta (900 km away from their territory), and we spent 10 months.
The case of Manuel shows the inefficacy of the Land Restitution Law, which does not provide guarantees for people seeking their claims. And this case is not an isolated incident, there are numerous cases of leaders murdered. Since 2012, 70 land claimant leaders, from the Land Restitution program, have been killed. In addition, the Land Restitution Unit, in its 18 months of existence, has not even solved 1% of the 31.111 (about 2.246.664 ha) applications for land restitution they have received.
In May 2013 they gather courage and with the help of the ICJP and PBI they returned.
Before the visit of International Initiatives, we spent the first day children, women, and men worked together fencing the Humanitarian Zones and installing the boards prohibiting the entrance of armed actors. Many civilians who were armed were seen hanging around and spying, We had mixed feelings about being back because of the absence of Manuel and Samir Ruiz, and it frightened us. We were deeply thankful with the International Initiatives visit, because it was the first national – international mission to show solidarity to Costa Azul. We have hope that you will help to promote our painful story so that it will be told.
Voices of Dissent: Mary Hernandez of Bijao, a Biodiversity Zone
People from Bijao were displaced as well in 1997. Some of the community members went back to Bijao subsequently, and were displaced a second time. Between 2002 and 2003, when the families were living in forced exile, they were threatened and forced to sell their lands, so rich business groups acquired thousands of hectares fraudulently. According to the newspaper El Tiempo, one of the landlords was “arrested in Apartado in 2010 accused of kidnapping four peasants in 2003, and causing the displacement of 350 people and the disappearance of at least 100 Afro-descendants.
According to a report by INCODER (National Institute of Land Reform) of 2005, the company represented by the businessmen was pointed out as occupying the lands of Curbarado in bad faith. The Constitutional court through different ruling has ordered to immediately evict the company from Curbarado.
When the community leaders heard about the benefits of living in a Humanitarian Zone, Mary Hernandez among others decided to challenge the businessmen who grabbed their lands many years ago with the help of paramilitary groups. They went back to their territory knowing that it is still being occupied with palm-oil plantations and cattle ranching. The Bijao Biodiversity Zone, which was founded in October 2012 is hosting 17 families. After setting it up, the local inhabitants received numerous threats and the Afro descendent workers also destroyed their huts (only 15 days after five families returned to Bijao) and thereafter they broke the fence to allow the cows to come in and feed off the food crops.
A few days before the families returned to Bijao, they went to the Land Restitution office where they were told that the program was being given priority to the collective titles over the individual ones. However the Bijao Biodiversity Zones is a collective title of 100 ha, beneficiating several families, the land grabbers remain on the community’s territory.
The Biodiversity Zone is another survival strategy developed in the rural communities of Curvarado, Jiguamiando, Cacarica, Pedeguita y Mansilla, Santa Rosa del Limon and Vigia de Curvarado and those communities are living and resisting take-over. In the Biodiversity Zone, people grow their food, using multi-cropping and sustainable agricultural methods. Given the high impact of large-scale timber exploitation, the diversion and canalisation of rivers, and the implementation of mega-projects for cattle ranching and monoculture of palm-oil trees, restoration of the natural ecosystems is an important priority of the Biodiversity Zones. A Biodiversity Zone has to respect the four principles of: sustainable agriculture, the recovery of poor soils and vegetation, conservation and sustainable housing. At present there are 87 Biodiversity Zones.
Voices of Dissent - Indigenous Reserves: – The Case of the Nasa People and ACIN
This indigenous community (currently it is the Department of Cauca, in southwestern Colombia) has organised itself to resist violence and make the opponents (whether conquistadors in the colonial times, rich landowners after independence or the guerrilla groups and the national and multinationals today) respect their territory. In 1994 the Nasa community founded the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (ACIN for its Spanish acronym). It is recognised by the Ministry of Home Affaires as one of the most renowned indigenous organizations in the country and because of the non-violent alternative that it is seeking to promote.
They have the following objectives:
1. Recover the land belonging to the community reservation.
2. Enlarge the reservation.
3. Strengthen the indigenous councils.
4. Abolish tenancy payment.
5. Restore indigenous laws and demand their implementation.
6. Protect the community’s culture, language and customs.
7. Train indigenous teachers to teach according to the Nasa culture and language.
This organisation, which is made up of more than 112.000 Nasa people, has planned seven sustainable community projects that will be implemented in 19 indigenous territories spread in 8 municipalities. These community projects, called “Life Plans”, and focus on autonomy, resistance and Minga among other communities and seek to restore the communities and be able to live in harmony with Mother Earth. The Nasa people do not see their collective planning as written documents but as a collective dream whose pillars are based on spirituality, reciprocity, integrality and respectful use of land. In addition the values that have characterised the Nasa resistance are unity – territory – culture – autonomy.
The seven Life Plans that are implemented by the Indigenous Authorities, Councils, the Indigenous Guards, community boards and technical teams called “fabric of life”. There are seven “fabrics of life”: Environmental-Economic Fabric; People and Culture Fabric, Justice and Harmony Fabric, Defense of Life Fabric, Communications and Foreign Relations for Truth and Life Fabric.
Nasa people are frequently caught between armed operations, hostilities, and confrontations between state and FARC guerrilla forces. Land concentration for large landholders and mega-mining projects are also denying the Nasa rights to land and livelihood.
The Nasa people are characterised by their self-organisation and their capacity to mobilise quickly. One of the recent actions was the Nasa people took the army post on Berlin hill in 2011 and forced the soldiers to leave, because their presence was attracting FARC rebels to perpetuate violence in the area. The Berlin Hill is a sacred place for the community yet the army has been camping there for years. After this action, most of the 66 soldiers left the military post, and six of them refused to leave despite the repeated requests from the Indigenous Nasa Guards. The Guards proceeded to utilize their legitimate force and lifted and pushed the soldiers, who threatened to retaliate against the community. The remaining soldiers eventually left and the community organised a sit-in in the hill.
Peasant Farmers (Campesinos) Reserve Zones
The FPRZ are defined as a limited geographical area belonging to the government, characterised by the predominance of uncultivated land (forest) and abundant natural resources. The peasant farmers have been forced to settled or colonised these lands due to the lack of opportunities or the long many years violence in the rural areas, which have pushed them off their lands to the forest, affecting the vulnerability of fragile ecosystems. In addition, in these regions operate the illegal armed groups and cocaine traffickers.
In 1987, the Government was working on legislation to protect the small farmers from land dispossession, and many peasant farmer organisations got together in the department of Meta and made a proposal to have reserved zones in which they could also protect the natural resources, and contain the expansion of the agricultural border and stabilise the local economy. As a result, the Government created the Peasant Farmer Reserve Zones (Law 160 of 1994). But they were only implemented in 1996, after the rural communities in coca-growing region such us Cauca, Putumayo, South of Bolivar and Guaviare departments were protesting in response to aerial fumigation and its effects on illicit crops as well as food crops, livestock, forest, water bodies and human health. They also demanded a serious commitment of the Government to implement the FPRZ and provide social and economic investment in the reserve zones.
These campesino reserves created an enabling environment for the small farmers and they help to strength the local economy while at the same time protecting natural resources and establishing ways of carrying out sustainable development. They also work to regulate land use and tenancy, and give preferential treatment to peasant farmers with minimal resources and they stress food sovereignty. The rural community designs its sustainable development plan to guarantee the access to land, titling, sustainable livelihood to all the community members. This plan is make in cooperation with the local government authorities.
Benefits of the Peasant Farmer’s Reserves:
- Land ownership and land redistribution.
- Farmer, territorial identity.
- Control over land and natural resources.
- Food sovereignty for the country.
- Caring of nature and biodiversity.
- Improved and dignified livelihoods for peasants.
- Correct the inequitable concentration of land ownership.
- Prevent land grabbing from landlords, companies and multinationals.
- Create land use and tenancy, granting preferential distribution to peasant farmers with scarce resources.
- Strengthen the peasant farmer sustainable economy .
- Protection of nature from mining exploitation.
- Community participation in sustainable development plans.
The Peasant Farmer Association in the Cimitarra River Valley’s (ACVC)
ACVC is an organization of farmers displaced for decades because of the violence. They have been resisting the political and social repression (which displaced thousand of peasant form Magdalena Medio region) as well as opposing the unjust governance structure, which aims to control the gold-mining. The ACVC was founded in 1996, by peasant farmers, to organize meetings, peaceful protest and dialogue with President Andres Pastrana. Based on Law 160, the Government initiated a pilot project. Between 1997 and 2002, six Peasant Farmer Reserves were created of which one was in the Cimitarra River Valley. On April 2003 under President Alvaro Uribe, the Peasant Reserves were suspended. According to the ACVC, 16 extrajudicial killings have been committed in Cimitarra River Valley. Many ACVC members have been threatened, arbitrary detentions, forced displacements, forced disappearance, torture, the burning of their homes and blockades of food and basic supplies and other acts of violence. President Santos lifted the prohibition of the Peasant Farmers Reserves in 2011. At the moment the Cimitarra Valley Peasant Farmer reserve benefits 8935 families.
The ACVC covers the geographical area of 8 municipalities of Magdalena Medio Region and is made up of 120 Community Action Boards, cooperatives, fisherfolk communities and other organizations of rural work. The organization has estimated 25.000 members. The ACVC social, political and economic development projects are designed to guarantee food security for the peasant farmer population of the Cimitarra River Valley.
Carrying out the Training Program
The sharing of pedagogical techniques on non-violence between India and Colombia was a very rich experience. The venue for the training was in one of the Humanitarian Zones, Carmelias, and at the entrance, there is a sign stating that this “a place of Non-Violence”. On the upper floor of the training room, was the Memorial Museum, which commemorated the murders of people of the communities who are to be remembered as martyrs. In the Camelias Memorial Museum, Manuel Ruiz and his son Samir along with others have the photographs posted on the wall. The collective memory of disappearances, ‘forced positives’ and assassinations were an important project of all the Humanitarian Zones in keeping the history of popular struggle alive and not forgetting whose lives should be recorded.
The training was over three days and this was participatory. There was no clear leader or facilitator and people had as long as they wanted to speak. Respect was paid to the woman leader of the Camelias’ Humanitarian Zone, Maria Ligia, whose description can be found above.
There were 70 community leaders present in the meeting from outside from about 45 organizations around the country, and there were about 80 locals. The Meeting on the Right to Land was from the 19th to 21st of June. The first day was the reports on the 45 different struggles whether Humanitarian Zones, Biodiversity Zones, Indigenous Reserves and Peasant Farmers Reserves.
By late afternoon on the 19th June the Spanish film on the Janadesh was shown, as a way to prepare people for the training on the next day. In Ekta Parishad, the large actions frame the training.
On Day 2: the following activities were carried out.
- Jai Jagat Song.
- Games – One is the group protecting the cow from the tiger; and the second is the group protecting the leader. Each were carried out with a short discussion of its relevance to non-violent work.
- Mapping of Power Structure: Rajaji carried out this training where he showed an organigram of a society’s power structure and he tried to argue that the dual processes of mobilisation and advocacy as methods of non-violent organising. As the structure was more from an Indian context, the participants redrew the power map to fit the conditions that they were facing in the country. This led to a discussion. The conclusion of the discussion was that mobilisation was possible, but possibly dialogue was not.
- Tools of nonviolent Action: Jill helped the group to list the different tools of Non-Violence that they were using. It turned out in their list that they were doing some mobilisation and some dialogue activities.
- Outcomes of nonviolence in India: Rajaji reviewed some of the NV actions in India that had succeeded and that had included the middle class urban communities.
- Outcomes of nonviolent actions in Bolivia were presented by Marcelina Matias from Sicsal foundation and Gladys Mamani from Bartolina Sisa women’s organisation.
- Outcomes of nonviolence in Honduras was presented by Jose Martine from COPINH.
- Presentation of Training Film by Nathalia.
- Questions and Answer Session.
On Day 3:
- More individual presentations.
- Sub-groups were formed for planning the Measures and Mechanisms accompanying communities claiming their land rights and territories.
- Final Session and Formulation of General Declaration.
In sum, the contribution made by International Initiatives consisted of sharing the experience of Ekta Parishad, the Jan Satyagraha, the main elements of the training methodology. This was done in tandem with our guests from Bolivia and Honduras. We have an oral evaluation and the discussions were very lively and engaging.
Two outputs of the training were: a plan for different activities among the 17 main groups. There was also a joint declaration. As this 3-day program had been interspersed with a 7-day program of field visits, it clearly showed the context in which people worked.
The article has looked at the land context and the non-violent forms of organising. In Section 3, there is a presentation on the International Initiatives and Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace use of training techniques and collaborative action. The future plans has been worked out in a follow up program. This includes ways of exchanging community leaders across borders so that they develop greater skills and capacities in non-violent action.
Finally we want to thank the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace, for being our host organisation and for giving us rare insight into the happenings at the grassroots level.